Thursday, August 05, 2010

First Flight

Case says: My first flight as a baby was at 10 days of age, when my parents took me from Bangkok, where I was born, back to USA for a visit. We haven't been nearly as ambitious with the twins; they haven't even been away from home overnight yet.

I'm still trying to think of a good excuse for that. After all, as a travel bum myself, isn't it my responsibility to introduce my girls to travel early and often?
My current excuse is airline deregulation. When I was a 10-day-old baby, airline prices were still government regulated, which meant that the airlines could only compete on service, not price. Thus, flights from Bangkok to USA would be 1/3rd to 2/3rds empty and staffed by a bevy of young age-and-weight limited stewardesses (yes, I know that's now a politically incorrect term, but I can't remember why, and that is what they were called back then) only too delighted to help out with the babies while you nibbled culinary delicacies off of fine china and tried to politely decline offers of champagne and caviar.
Nowadays, flight attendants, though older and drawn from 2 (or more) of the sexes, are usually passably courteous and sometimes even helpful. While I frequently get the impression that they were drawn from a pool of unusually irascible former school bus drivers, and that they believe the sky and the airplane belong exclusively to themselves, I'm not sure I blame them. What with rowdy passengers, shoe bombers, low staffing, long hours, aging aircraft, pilots who snooze right past the airport, and the occasional bozo who thinks Boeing is another word for bordello, it aint an easy job.
It's TSA that gets me. Nothing makes me feel more like a mouse in a maze than running the gauntlet of airport security. Once upon a time, you got your boarding pass, later to be briefly inspected as you entered the airplane, dropped off your luggage, and that was about the extent of the hassle until it was time to deplane.
Now, have secured said boarding pass (via Web-check-in, if you're smart), all one needs to do is:
  • Wait in the queue to have your luggage weighed and tagged.
  • Pay per item for each piece of luggage, plus exorbitant overage rates for any piece weighing more than, say, a medium-sized wiener dog.
  • Wait in the queue to have your luggage accepted for screening by TSA.
  • Wait while your luggage is screened by TSA.
  • Wait until TSA says your luggage is ok, accepts it for loading, and grants you permission to leave their corral.
  • Wait in the queue to have your boarding pass and ID checked by TSA.

  • Wait longer as 1 out of every 4 people ahead of you arrives at the TSA desk and only then begins to frantically hunt through his/her possessions for a suitable piece of ID.
  • Wait in the queue approaching TSA's security screening lanes, 3 of which will suddenly be closed to allow for employee coffee break about the time that 350 people arrive to board a soon-to-depart jumbo jet.
  • Wait in the queue to get half a dozen bins for use in the next step.
  • Wait in the queue to get to the place where you must disrobe of your shoes, coat, sweater, hat, gloves, belt, hearing aids, keys, cell phone, iPod, and pens, and place all these items in said bins along with your briefcase, diaper bag, baby bottles, formula, diaper cream, and laptop computer (removed and separate from your briefcase, thank-you-very-much). (I still wonder what happens to women with underwire bras...)
  • Wait for your bins of personal effects and private items to enter the X-ray machine.
  • Wait in the queue for the metal detector walk-through.
  • Wait while the TSA rep on the other side of the metal detector checks your boarding pass yet again, and informs you that you didn't need to keep your ID out, and should have put it through the X-ray machine.
  • If you're lucky, the metal detector won't beep, or you'll join another queue for a personal pat-down by a TSA rep with whom you otherwise wouldn't enter a dark alley.
  • Wait in the queue to pick up your bins of personal effects now leaving the X-ray machine.
  • If you're lucky, you won't be directed to join another queue where TSA divests you of all deoderant, perfume, water, personal lubricant (for all I know), or other liquids, gels, or colloids exceeding 3 oz per item, subjects the baby formula to suspicious inspection, insists you take a sip from each baggie of thawing breast milk, and confiscates your diaper cream outright.
  • Wait for a chair to become vacant, so you can sit down, replace the shoes on your feet, re-stow wallet, pens, cell phone, and iPod in their various cubbies, re-pack your computer in the briefcase, and re-pack your diaper bag.
  • Wait in the queue for Starbucks and then Taco Bell so you'll have something to eat on the 7 hour flight where you would otherwise get only mini-pretzels and soda plus the offer of a brown bag lunch your mom would have been embarrassed to send you to school with, but which on the airplane will cost you $10.
  • Wait in the queue to show your boarding pass and board your flight.
  • Fumble through all your bags for your ID, only to discover they don't need to see it again.

  • Wait in the queue on the boarding ramp as folks slowly shuffle onto the aircraft.
  • Wait in the queue outside the aircraft door to have your collapsible stroller stowed in the aircraft hold before you're allowed to actually enter the aircraft.
  • Wait and wait and wait while your fellow passengers stow N roll-on bags in overhead bins made to contain N-3 such bags. This, of course, always results in a series of tiffs between passengers, culminating in an adjudicated settlement by one or more flight attendants, who must squeeze by the whole aisle-length of passengers to arrive at the site of the difficulty, then squeeze back carrying one or more of the disputed bags for stowage below.
  • Wait at your seat row while two or more passengers play musical chairs so that you can get to your seat.
  • Sag exhausted into your seat, only to discover that you must spend the whole flight with your knees drawn up to your ears or (alternately) with your patootie suspended 3 inches above the seat-cushion, as that's where it stops on the way down, when your knees hit the seat ahead of you.
Is it any wonder, then, that when we finally introduced Anneka and Mariella to flight, we selected Ketting's Baling Wire & Duct Tape Airline Company. The boarding process (detailed in photos above) might be lengthy and the hearing protection ungainly, but the lines are shorter, the baggage allowance more generous, and the carry-ons virtually unrestricted.

Anneka & Mariella thought the pilot and stewardess were friendlier, more attentive, and more accessible, too. And the pilot thought the passengers the cutest, and the stewardess the prettiest, of any of his many flights.

Disclaimer: I have a good friend who works for TSA, so I hasten to add that the above is written for entertainment value, as humor and hyperbole. No one has all these experiences, and certainly not in merciless sequence as I have depicted. Nevertheless, those who remember airline travel before deregulation, or even before 9-11, may identify with portions of this posting.


Lynn Stahler said...

Happy 1st Birthday to your beautiful girls!!

Lynn Stahler

Lynn Stahler said...

Dr. Richard Lloyd and Connie and Juanita and several others from St. Jude's Onc dept send their greetings as well!